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'We Are Sinking': Unions Representing L.A. Essential Workers Call For Month-Long Lockdown

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Hospitals in Los Angeles County were at a crisis point Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to surge, with patients at a Whittier emergency room forced to wait outside on gurneys for nearly an hour just to get into the hospital.

And the scene was the same across the Southland with ambulances lined up outside every major hospital Sky9 flew over as the region's available intensive care unit capacity fell to zero.

"I worked at the County when the Rodney King riots happened," Michael Rivera, a respiratory therapist at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, said. "And this dwarfs that."

Rivera said that's why he and other members of several unions — representing nurses, teachers, grocery and hotel workers — have urged Los Angeles County leaders to order another total shutdown for at least a month.

"We know the impact it has on people's lives and businesses," he said. "It is nothing compared to the suffering that these patients are going through. This is torture on a scale that I can't get my head around."

RELATED: Medical Experts Recommend Essential Workers Be Vaccinated In Next Phase

Kurt Petersen, whose union represents hotel and food service workers, said that one member per week on average was dying from COVID-19. He also said the members of Unite Here Local 11 have a positivity rate double the county's average.

And while the union co-president admitted that a shutdown seems in opposition to the pleas of business owners to keep things open, he insisted that they all have the same goal.

"The only way the lockdown works is if we have enormous relief for both small businesses (and) workers — direct relief so that they can stay in their homes, so that they don't go out and get sick," he said. "That's the combination we have to have in order to get through this next period."

For Petersen, protecting lives and livelihoods goes hand in hand.

"No one wants to get back to work more than our members who are hotel and food service workers in Los Angeles," he said. "But the tinkering that's being done right now is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are sinking."

The unions have sent a petition to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, but Dr. Muntu Davis, county health officer, said Thursday that he does not think the county should go back into a full lockdown.

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